Busy does not equal engaged.
In fact, I find that the busier I get, the more tunnel-visioned I become, and my awareness of the world around me dwindles. My universe becomes feed, chauffer, work, chauffer, feed, Legos, work, bed. Unfortunately, the references I make, the conversations I have, the examples I use to explain things – it’s all colored by my experience. And a myopic perspective sucks for everyone – for me, my colleagues and friends, my partner, and particularly for my son. My window to the world largely becomes Harry’s window, so for his sake as much as my own, I need to actively engage ideas, history, culture, world events – anything that helps me look up from my routine and think fresh.
Below are a few ideas I’m considering. I won’t be able to do all of them – in fact, I think I will only do one of these at a time – and I’m not going to beat myself up when I can’t make it happen, but the key is to be proactive and intentional about my own mental engagement:
Read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. As busy as I am, I do read a lot of fiction because I love it so much. However, setting a goal to read all 85-or-so Pulitzer Prize winners would add a few benefits to my reading experience: a) it will push me to read genres and topics that I wouldn’t normally, like history, b) reading Pulitzers would ensure that the books comport with some subjective standard of quality or significance, c) even if I don’t like all the books on the list, reading them will improve my points of reference from important works, and d) I like working through a list. Plus, I need to at least start now because this will take me my whole life to do.
Standing date with the New York Times. The idea is to commit to at least an hour on the weekend reading the Sunday Times to keep on top of what is happening beyond Harry’s school and my kitchen. It matters that I know who the current Prime Minister of Israel is or how the dollar stands against the Euro. What is the controversial play off Broadway? What are the latest advancements in the fight against cancer? When did Czechoslovakia stop being a country? I know, I know – it seems impossible to squeeze in what feels like a luxury, but if I have to plug Harry into a video game or a book of his own, so be it. It’s worth it for both of us because BONUS FEATURE: I could mark a few articles that Harry can understand and show and discuss with him after I’m finished. Not only does this help him share in the knowledge, but it sets a great example for being inquisitive about the world around us.
Magazine Club. Pick an inquisitive, smart friend who also could benefit from a jolt and pick a magazine than addresses topics outside your comfort zone or normal routine. I’m not talking US Weekly or even Vanity Fair. The Economist? The Atlantic? Or maybe your work is newsy and analytical and your intentional reading should include more right brained stuff, say Monocle or The New Yorker. Commit to reading on your own and then meet over a bottle of wine to discuss the articles that intrigued or stumped you. It’s not a contest, it’s a protected opportunity to have grownup conversations about ideas that stretch the way we think.
Podcasts. If these other ideas are too intimidating or just not appealing to you, here’s one we can all pull off … podcasts. Pick a week’s worth of podcasts on topics that will stretch you, load them up on your phone or iPod, and listen to them in the car, on the treadmill or while you are folding clothes. Rumor has it that these podcasts are pretty good, and if you are technically challenged, here is a good how-to guide for listening to podcasts.
Sound like a plan? I think so. Let’s do this.